Luke and Mallory Leasure have a zenlike calm about them, such that if you’re not careful, their immense energy for creative expression will hit you like a sneaker wave. They grew up together in Phoenix, just a couple of art kids, drawing, taking pictures, and scoping out the indie music scene, cruising the valley in Luke’s ‘78 El Camino.
Luke had been friends with Mallory’s brothers, playing music together, and in short order Mallory was in the mix. They’d take advanced art classes, Mallory getting into sewing and handcrafts as Luke explored mural painting. “We’re really crafty,” Luke sums it up. As they talk about it, Mallory describes it perfectly, ‘we both have of the same weird background, which is really comforting. Everything that I have context for, Luke does too.’
Mallory grew up in an artistic family–her dad is an accomplished pen-and-ink artist. Eventually she grabbed her mom’s camera, and it wasn’t long before a camera became another appendage. As we start talking about cameras, the collective low-key knowledge about cameras–especially the transitional period as a lot of cameras moved toward digital–is pretty amazing. Like any photographer, they have their opinions about digital vs. film, but the love of the equipment itself is evident. They both start laughing as they describe a rather bizarre sounding camera museum in Boston that they visited while waiting around for a wedding shoot.
As they remember taking the plunge to make photography a career, the particulars are familiar to those who have risked it all to follow a dream. Working odd jobs, trying to stay ahead of auto mechanic bills, and surviving mostly on potatoes, they bought their first camera on credit and started taking pictures in their free time. Pretty quickly, friends started asking if they could take photos here and there.
Luke highlights that taking decent pictures and getting into photography as a business are very different things. ‘You can seem like a really solid photographer on the internet, but then have no idea how to do the business side of it. That takes time, a lot of effort, and also somebody willing to talk to you about it.’
The Leasures met several such angels–people coaching them on what to include in their contracts, how to think about what to charge, how to build a website, effectively, how to take something that started as a hobby and a passion, and build it into a business. They started shooting weddings locally at first, then regionally. Word of mouth began to spread: these guys know how to see the world through a camera lens.
Their timing was pretty perfect, too. Instagram was just becoming a thing. Luke laughs, ‘at first Instagram was just photos of your food.’ But quickly, as technology continued to catch up with social media, photographers had an international reach, an ability to showcase their work for a global audience. Luke and Mallory were at the front of that line, and realized somewhat suddenly: this might no longer be a side hustle. This is a job.
When asked if they miss the simplicity of early days, or if there’s a romance to the struggle, they hedge a bit–there’s nostalgia, but no desire to go back. ‘There was literally a moment where we had baked potatoes for the fifth night in a row and I realized I do not like potatoes.’
They spent time in small-town Colorado, earning their stripes and ‘sticking out like sore thumbs’ before moving to Portland, where they immediately found a community of artists a lot like themselves. These friendships have lasted, even as the particulars of career and family have shifted.
So, what happens when you take two people with strong artistic vision, two people in love who live together, travel together, work together all the time? They’re quick to say that in the early days there were disagreements about what looked good and what didn’t, but it’s clear that their love for each other has allowed them to see each other’s strengths and cheer each other on in their work. In many ways, working closely together has made their marriage stronger as it’s forced them to learn how to talk things out in the moment, how to let things go, and how to trust each other with the work.
They’ve recently made a switch from mostly wedding photography to commercial photography, and change is good. But when asked about their future ambitions, it’s clear that the camera lens has been a tool to frame the world, but their creative drives go far beyond photography alone. The internet/social media world has allowed Luke and Mallory to see the world, but it’s still ephemeral. The Leasures are happy to do creative work, and they feel gratitude deeply for what they’ve been allowed to do. But there’s a desire to create art that lasts longer than a thumb swipe. They recently finished remodeling their home, and are interested in creating spaces that breed warmth and creativity. Creativity is the engine, the camera is incidental.